Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Here's to the Nerds

So, this weekend I went to what must be the world's largest convention of biblical scholars, theologians, and religious studies professors. There were 10,000 people at AAR/SBL this year, and attendees ranged from luminaries in the respective fields, to professors at seminaries, universities, and colleges, to doctoral and masters students, and those just plain old interested enough to shell out a couple hundred bucks and sit in rooms listening to lectures from 9:00am to 9:00pm.  And every last one of them, in his or her own special way, was an absolute weirdo. And I loved them.

This isn't to say that the people there weren't well-adjusted members of society. I'm sure at least some of them were. But seriously -- who spends years and years and years studying Greek grammar with an undying passion? Who spends years unpacking one chapter, or even one paragraph, or one sentence, or one word of Scripture, and then writes a 400-page book about it? Who spends the majority of her life absolutely broke so she can study something esoteric and then teach three sections of Religion 101 every semester until she gets tenure, if she ever gets tenure? The answer is nerds. Weirdo nerds.

And what was great about going to AAR/SBL was that they were all there, together. Sharing ideas, seeing long-lost friends and classmates, getting really, really excited about stuff that 99.99% of the population doesn't care about. But they care, and deeply. And they care together.  What I loved was the community which formed around a mutual love of the subject. How, even through the academic posturing of desperate doctoral students looking for work, every now and then their very self shone through and you caught a glimpse of what they loved and how they couldn't help who they were. In this environment, there was a live-and-let-live attitude about what made you tick, and acceptance of others in their very own special case of obsession of Marcion of Smyrna and the Shaping of Christian Identity in the Martyrdom of Polycarp. Yup. I've got no idea what that was about, but I'm happy for him. And everyone else was, too.

And in this, this acceptance of others in all of their oddness, was what made the community so wonderful. May we all learn to not just tolerate, but to embrace the differences. In this acceptance was a little slice of heaven.

You go nerds.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Streetcar Rumors

I get asked by a lot of people about what I know about the streetcars. The answer is, not much. But here's a compilations of rumors I've heard in the last week about the streetcars:
  • That the streetcar is going to open in January. Or March. Or June. Of 2014, 2015 or 2016. Or 2020.
  • That there is a city council conspiracy to gentrify Anacostia by means of streetcar. 
  • That the tracks reached Union Station, but were unable to continue because the planners forgot to ask Amtrak if they could connect their tracks into the station.
  • That the streetcars wheels were built as a standard size for streetcars, but the tracks were laid in the standard size for trains. As such, the tracks had to be entirely ripped out and redone, which is why everything is taking so long.
The rumors reflect the natural cynicism of DC residents, and some of them are funny. Whether there is a seed of truth at the center of them, I don't know.

The only thing that I know for sure about the streetcars is that the wires are starting to go up. Please excuse the amateur photography, but check it out:

H & 12 

Looking east on H&12

Some workers using shop vacs to clean out the tracks. H&12

If you'd like some official information (whether it's true or not, I'm not sure... What is truth?), I suggest

And just for fun, if your favorite streetcar rumor isn't on here, add it to the comments. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gayest Place in America

Jeremy W. Peters opined this weekend in The New York Times that DC might be "The Gayest Place in America". It's worth a read, but mostly I'm just relieved that the "news" in the article is about how LGBT folk are drawn to politics, there have always been LGBT people in Washington, and now it's okay for them to be out about it. Not real news, especially to anyone who lives here, but just sort of a celebration of the fact. The Post, in usual Post fashion, responded with statistics, a chart, and complaints that DC should be compared to cities instead of states. (Don't get me wrong; I love this nerdy side of the Post. This article just seemed particularly Post-y.)

Less happy news this week came out of the Methodist Church. The Rev. Frank Schaefer was tried in ecclesiastical court for disobedience to church teachings and for presiding over the wedding of his gay son. Schaefer was found guilty, and will be sentenced by the church today. He could be defrocked. Both sides are in a furor about it.

The journey towards acceptance and openness, and even more, liturgical affirmation of the love between two same-gendered people, is a long one for institutions. I am acutely aware of this process in the Episcopal Church, for which this process is significantly further along (we have openly gay and partnered clergy and clergy leadership and a church-approved trial church service for blessing the relationships of same-gendered couples) and yet the wider Anglican church and even parts of our own church are resistant or even outright hostile. If I've learned anything, it's that the issue is a pastoral issue for both sides. Confusion, hurt, and anger rule for all parties unless they are met over and over again with love, patience, and kindness.

My prayer for the Methodists, especially for those who are gay and love their church (I'm looking at you, Chett Pritchett) is for patience and strength. It's a long walk, but you'll get there, and hopefully everyone can see what really matters, and that the communities of faith can stick together.

Hopefully someday soon for the Methodists, like it is in Washington, it will be more of a non-issue to be gay than it ever has been.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Whole Foods on H Street: Why you should be more angry or less angry than you are

H Street is getting a Whole Foods. I know I'm late to the blogging game on this one-- the news (and here and here) broke last week about the $443M deal and there's been all sorts of chatter about it, and most of it divisive. There seem to be two camps: Develop the hell out of everything and get rid of the "riff raff" (real classy, commentator on Frozen Tropics) or keep things exactly the way that they were... fifteen years ago.

Aside of the all of the hilarious snark that is the byproduct of such a pitched fight, both sides have valid points that the other side seems uninterested in entertaining. Something needs to be done to the 600 block. Murry’s doesn’t exactly contribute to community health with its selection of prepackaged and hydrogenated foods. Conversely, Whole Foods is stupidly, nearly prohibitively expensive, and suburban bland. The same goes for the 430 condos that are slated to be built on top of the Whole Foods: there is a demand for housing that will be met, and which will stimulate the local economy. However, the design looks just like anything else in NoVA. And so, it’s a mixed bag, more than most are willing to admit.

Despite the pitched fight, it seems to me that no one is asking the right questions. Given the reality of development that is coming to H Street, how can we think creatively together to form a new way of being as a community? How do we welcome development in such a way that it brings new life to the neighborhood while working collaboratively with those who have been here a long time? What are the legitimate needs of everyone on both sides of the issue? Given the stories of the past, how are we retelling the story of the neighborhood, which in turn shapes how we see the future?

Ranting is satisfying, but it won't keep the developers at bay. We need to be having non-polarized discussions about the future of the neighborhood that involve all stakeholders. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Super Zips"

On Saturday, the Washington Post released a long form story about "Super Zips:" zip codes in the top five percent in college education and household income.

Not surprisingly, the DMV has the largest collection of "Super Zips" in the country. Also not surprisingly, the map showed huge disparity between zip codes. Most of NW and Arlington are in the 99th percentile, while two zips in the SW rank in the 13th percentile. H Street's numbers show what has been known for a long time, which is that the neighborhood is transitioning. Right now, 43% of residents are college graduates, making an average of $55K a year. If this neighborhood follows the regional trends, those numbers will be rising.

Other than finding all of this interesting, I wonder what it means. On a personal level, I made an connection that I hadn't before. My hometown in rural PA ranked in the 12th percentile, roughly the same in income and education as Anacostia. (In case you're curious, it's 17801.) I was reminded that poverty is poverty, rural or urban. On a civic level, I believe we desperately need to ensure affordable housing for those who work low-paying jobs in high-cost living areas so that they may simply live. But on a Christian level, I was reminded that when God came and dwelled with humanity in the person of Christ, God chose to live in a neighborhood that was likely ranked in the bottom fifth percentile of the Roman Empire. I don't glorify poverty. It's ugly, and it traps people for generations. But out of everywhere, God chose the shitty neighborhood. Why?

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Bus and the Beatitudes

On Monday I finished up work at Dupont Circle, took the Metro to Chinatown, and hopped the X2 down H Street. It's an articulated bus, and it's crowded, so I found myself moving all the way to the back before I could find a place to stand. We're riding down the street, and I'm in a group of middle and young high schoolers being pretty obnoxious. Shouting, bad singing, pushing each other around a little bit. Whatever, you know? I was an obnoxious teen once, too, so I ignore them and look at my phone.

But as I'm standing there, reading, a hand slaps my hand. Really hard. I turn around and look -- everyone's sitting there, acting like nothing happened. Again, whatever. I give them the knock-it-off look and turn around. But within thirty seconds, another hand reaches out and snatches what is clearly a hand-made knitted hat off of the girl sitting next to me. I turn around, and she turns around and stands next to me.

"Give me back my hat, please."

"I don't got it."

"You took my hat. One of you has my hat."

I chime in: "Guys, not cool. Just give her back her hat."

Nothing. And nothing turns into giggling, and the situation escalates. Meanwhile, all of the other adults are doing their best to ignore what's happening.

"What are you going to do, call the cops? You can't call the cops over a stupid hat."

"Please give her the hat back."

And so it goes, for five minutes, around and around and around. We are asking nicely, looking under the seats to see if they dropped it while passing it to one another, anything that is actually within our power to do. At this point I should mention that I'm wearing a clerical collar. I can't exactly cuss these kids out, or throw a screaming fit. We reach a stalemate, and it's my stop. I apologize to the girl whose hat was stolen, and I get off the bus, kicking myself.

What could I have done better? They're just kids, and it was just a hat. But I was still mad. I could have lied to them about who I was or who I knew. Or pretended to (or actually) called the cops. Or hurled insults at them. Or started taking pictures of them with my phone. Or started screaming my head off and made the bus driver stop. But none of those options would have gotten to the root of the problem, which was they were in it to show how cool they were to their friends by pissing off the white ladies.

And then, walking home, I remembered the Gospel reading from the day before, which were the Lukan Beatitudes. ("Beatitudes" means "blessings" and it is the list that Jesus rattles off before giving some of his most powerful moral teachings.) I had stood in the middle of my congregation the day before, and proclaimed to 100 people, "If anyone take away your coat, do not withhold from them your shirt." I could have directly applied this to my life the VERY NEXT DAY and I missed it. Yikes. How thick am I?

I realized that the only possible way out of that would have been to surprise them. They were expecting anger and yelling and negative attention. What they wouldn't every have expected would have been for me to turn around ask if they were cold, and would they like my gloves, or my scarf, or my jacket? How about my sweater? It might not have worked. I might have ended up giving away all of those things and not getting her hat back. It would have been crazy, but it would have been a thought provoking, creative, and moral response. Maybe next time I'll get it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Early Evening

H&14 NE -- Nov. 6, 2013

Even in the city, creation can really be spectacular sometimes. Grateful for the twenty minutes of pyrotechnics last night.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Moving In and Moving On

I still don't feel totally moved in, despite being here for five weeks. We're here, and all of our stuff is here, and we even got our Verizon internet set up after five (!) appointments, but there is still so much to adjust to. There is a rhythm and a flow to H Street that I am still figuring out, and it changes from night to day, and from weekday to weekend. Our little street off of the main drag has proven to be welcoming and neighborly, and I'm glad that we stumbled upon it.

So, despite not feeling settled, I'm just going to go ahead and start the blog. We've already had a couple of adventures, including police storming up the stairs after my husband left the door open while he fed the dog, watching a fist fight in the middle of H Street turn into a chase with handguns, an X2 heckling session, meeting the owners of one of my favorite DC foodtrucks, a massive Halloween block party, and us starting to make the rounds of the local bars and restaurants. Better start soon before I miss anything else. My hope is to reflect on what's going on in the neighborhood and in our community life.

By way of introduction -- I'm Becky Zartman, a transitional deacon (church speak for "on the way to becoming a priest") in the Episcopal Church. And to answer any initial questions: Yes, I can get married. Yes, the Episcopal Church ordains women to be clergy and has since the 70's. Yes, we welcome, marry, and ordain gay people. Yes, I would be happy to discuss any questions at all you might have about Christianity or the church or how annoying/hypocritical/crazy/fill in the blank Christians can be. I'm not sure if I can answer the questions, but we can at least talk about it. Also in the cast of characters will be my husband, an international affairs specialist, and our dog, a terrier who may or may not be a war criminal.

Anyway, please excuse the blog being under construction for a bit. I'll be adding stuff as a go will look much prettier soon!